Driver leads agencies on two-hour pursuit

June 05, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

A suspected "load" vehicle led the U.S. Border Patrol and local police departments on a high-speed pursuit this morning that spanned the Imperial Valley before the driver escaped heading northwest toward Coachella.

The pursuit started about 7 a.m. on Interstate 8 in the west desert area of Imperial County.

During radio communications Border Patrol agents reported they were chasing a "load" vehicle filled with undocumented immigrants.

The vehicle, a Ford F150 pickup reportedly stolen from San Diego, left the interstate and headed north toward Brawley.

El Centro police joined in the pursuit and together with Border Patrol followed the vehicle into Brawley. El Centro police remained with the pursuit through Brawley to back up that department.

Brawley police Lt. Henry Graham said his department joined the pursuit when the chase moved through the city on side roads.


"If they are in town they are going to be chased," Graham said.

"We have an obligation once they enter our jurisdiction," Graham added. "We have to set up as many red flares as possible with sirens."

Graham said speeds during the pursuit ranged from 35 to 90 mph.

Graham said one major concern was the vehicle was coming through an area where children were on their way to school.

"It's a real bad situation," he said.

The vehicle raced out of Brawley on dirt roads and then entered Highway 86 heading back toward El Centro.

At some point the driver started back toward Brawley.

El Centro police Sgt. Jerrold Novak said El Centro police saw the vehicle head back north toward Brawley going the wrong way in the southbound lanes.

Novak added through much of the pursuit speeds reached about 80 mph. When speeds topped that mark, those involved backed off.

A Border Patrol helicopter joined in the pursuit.

About 9 a.m. the vehicle headed out of the Valley on Highway 86 toward Coachella.

Local authorities contacted officials in the Coachella area to tell them the vehicle was heading in their direction.

Border Patrol Agent Manuel Figueroa said this morning's pursuit is an example of the dangerous situation on local roadways as a result of smuggling operations.

He said smugglers are not concerned about risking lives.

Figueroa pointed to a standing order among smuggling operations that when pursued smugglers should drive in a dangerous manner because local authorities will break off pursuits.

"That is what their tactics are now," he said.

Figueroa added authorities have to think about the danger in which such pursuits can place other motorists and make a decision whether the pursuit is worth continuing.

"You have to think about the people on the highway," he said.

Novak said El Centro police have to think about the danger of the pursuit when considering whether to continue a chase.

Figueroa said another element the Border Patrol has to consider is the chase started in the county's western desert.

He said the Border Patrol has barriers in the eastern desert near Interstate 8 that are helping reduce smuggling efforts.

Now the Border Patrol has to look at whether the barriers are going to lead to more smuggling in the west desert and then decide whether more resources need to be placed there.

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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